The Commission has imposed fines totalling €161m on four producers of refrigeration compressors for operating an illegal cartel. It is the fifth time since its introduction in 2008 that the settlement procedure has been used.
In February 2009, Commission officials conducted unannounced inspections at the premises of producers of compressors used in household appliances such as refrigerators, freezers and ice-cream coolers. The investigation revealed that during the economic crisis the companies held multilateral meetings, exchanged sensitive market information and co-ordinated pricing policies in order to keep market stable and recover cost increases. It was clear that the Commission did not consider the economic circumstances justified exchange of confidential information. Commissioner Almunia commented that: “at a time of economic hardship it is all the more important to promote fair competition and step up the fight against cartels”.
The leniency applicant, Tecumseh, received full immunity from fines. The other four cartel participants, ACC, Danfoss, Embraco and Panasonic, chose to engage in settlement discussions in return for a 10 per cent reduction in fine and a prompt conclusion of the investigation. One of the undertakings successfully invoked the inability to pay exception under the fining guidelines and received a reduced fine following an investigation of its financial position.